182440975 © Goir | Dreamstime.com
It's important to start saving as soon as you get your first dental hygiene job

The benefits of a 401(k) for dental hygienists

Jan. 25, 2024
New job? It may seem early to save for retirement, but this dental hygienist explains why now is the time to prepare for your future. You'll be glad you did.

After the difficult journey through hygiene school, it's natural to be excited about finally starting your career and reaping the financial benefits that come with it. As you prepare to enter the workforce and start earning a steady income, questions about salary negotiations are likely at the top of your mind. 

While it's essential to be able to meet your immediate financial needs, one aspect that’s often overlooked is retirement planning. We think we have plenty of time to figure out and plan for retirement. Considering a 401(k) for your retirement is a crucial early step in your financial future. 

You might also be interested in

Trends in qualified retirement plans: Should I have a 401(k) or SIMPLE IRA?

Don’t forget the benefits offered through a job

The transition from student life to working professional often comes with the question: how much do I ask for per hour? For a newly graduated hygienist who may have pushed bills aside while in school, who’s now possibly adding student loans to financial responsibilities, it's natural to focus on the dollar amount needed for survival. However, when determining your future salary, you should also take into account the benefits being offered.

People often underestimate the benefits of a retirement savings account. It’s common to see social media posts where dental hygienists share their regret about not focusing on needed retirement savings. Unfortunately, the tendency is to blame employers or the profession for the lack of retirement benefits, but it’s education that may be lacking. The truth is that planning for retirement is a responsibility that starts as soon as someone begins earning an income.

If you’re not familiar with how to start saving for retirement, I suggest using a financial planner. One benefit to be on the lookout for when interviewing companies is a 401(k), which allows you to contribute pre-tax money toward your retirement savings. Usually, a certain percentage is withheld from your paycheck and put directly into this pre-tax account. Remember that this money is designated for retirement, so if you access it early, you’ll face penalties, fees, and other tax ramifications. 

The benefits, however, highly outweigh the risks because in many situations your employer may offer a matching contribution up to a certain percentage. This means that your employer will put money—essentially free money—directly into your 401(k). Some employers may have a vesting schedule, meaning you must be employed for a certain number of years before the money is yours. So, if you were to leave the company before being fully vested, all your employer contributions may not be yours to keep until you reach that designated time frame. But you do keep the personal funds you contributed. 

Retirement is closer than you think 

Retirement might feel very far away to new professionals. But time moves faster than we realize. The earlier you start contributing, the more time your money has to grow through the power of compounding. I cannot recommend enough the power of meeting with a financial advisor and developing a plan for what you can comfortably contribute so that your money can start working for you.  

Don't let the excitement of finally earning that long-awaited paycheck overshadow the importance of planning for your future. While negotiating your salary, remember that retirement benefits, particularly a 401(k), are integral to your long-term financial health. The more knowledge you have before your job interviews, the more you can confidently walk into those interviews and ask the appropriate questions so you can embark on a fulfilling career! 

Kimberly Augustus, RDH, has more than a decade of experience as a dental hygienist, and eight years of dedicated service in education. Recognizing a crucial need for mentorship in the post-graduation phase, Kimberly established BloomRDH. As the founder of this platform, she’s committed to assisting dental hygiene students to confidently navigate the transition from student to professional. With a wealth of industry knowledge and a heart for mentorship, Kimberly is a guiding force in helping dental hygienists bloom into successful professionals. Contact her at [email protected].

About the Author

Kimberly Augustus, BA, RDH

Kimberly Augustus, BA, RDH, has more than 10 years of clinical experience in the greater Boston area. She is also an adjunct faculty member at Middlesex Community College. She can be reached at [email protected].